Where in the world is Neal Stephenson?
February 14, 2002 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Where in the world is Neal Stephenson? The Web page of Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, etc., explains how busy he is writing his new book. (Quicksilver, according to this old interview.) The site's fabulously cranky, and a refreshing alternative to marketing sites for artists and authors, but no further explanation is forthcoming.
posted by krewson (41 comments total)
That's as it should be. Can't expect him to be Neil Gaiman, can we? Cheerful writers are a sign of the apocalypse.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:13 PM on February 14, 2002

Amazon.co.uk says that the paperback version of Quicksilver is expected in March 2003 and that it will be 926 pages long. In June of last year they said it would be out in March 2002, though, so who knows what's going on?
posted by Medley at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2002

isn't quicksilver supposedly due out in march sometime? I think there was a slashdot posting about it.
posted by chrisege at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2002

ha... question answered, i guess.
posted by chrisege at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2002

That Amazon UK info really makes no sense -- why would it be paperback? Cryptonomicon was hardcover first, then trade paperback -- still not in mass market form. And if it was listed as hardcover in March 2002, then this is probably an automatic error recycling the prev. post (before trade paperbacks, mass market copies were printed about a year later than the hardcover).
posted by krewson at 12:58 PM on February 14, 2002

In general, British publication is by a different publisher with a different schedule, following different rules than in North America.
posted by mcwetboy at 1:06 PM on February 14, 2002

The UK Amazon system assigns a random date "in the future" to books for which publication dates have not been released. The site had reported March 2002 as the publication date last January (I think that's when the name of the book was released.) Don't believe everything that Amazon tells you.
Then again, I'll pre-order it as soon as it comes out. Hopefully Randy and Amy will be in it.
posted by rshah21 at 1:15 PM on February 14, 2002

I just read In the Beginning was the Command Line today and it was brilliant.

That's all.
posted by swift at 1:41 PM on February 14, 2002

For my money, the most readable fiction writer going. Let him take all the time he needs. Better than a Stephen King type situation of the same lackluster shite every three months.
posted by dong_resin at 1:56 PM on February 14, 2002

Where in the world is Neal Stephenson?

I'm pretty sure I saw him in a Stuckey's outside Fenton, Missouri, munching on a nutlog and waxing rhapsodic to the countergirl about how cool it was that he wrote Snow Crash on a Mac Classic II. "The screen was teeeeeeeny-tiiiiiiiiny...."

At least, I think it was him.
posted by UncleFes at 2:12 PM on February 14, 2002

I'm probably going to get flamed into the ground for this, but I've become more and more disenchanted by Stephenson as time goes on. Snow Crash was an utterly fantastic novel. No complaints whatsoever on that one- both gripping, fast-paced futurism, and over-the-top humor nearly worthy of Douglas Adams. Diamond Age, while sharing much of the same brilliance of SC, ultimately disappointed me by falling flat in the last few chapters, as if Stephenson simply ran out of steam before getting all the ideas out. Then there's Cryptonomicon, IMHO a book so bloated and pointless I threw it against the wall upon finishing it. The only chapter that had any life at all, and the only one which showed the "old-stlye" Stephenson, was his multiple-page treatise on the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch. Otherwise, DULL DULL DULL. Characters so paper-thin it was hard to believe it was the same author. Rambling, deadly boring, and the same problems with WRITING A DECENT ENDING TO A GODDAMN NOVEL that Diamond Age had. The book goes on and on and on, and then suddenly just ENDS. No thanks.
posted by 40 Watt at 3:07 PM on February 14, 2002

Anybody read Zodiac? One of perhaps 3 books I've ever stayed up all night to finish. Oh, you can get it cheaper too.
posted by daver at 3:21 PM on February 14, 2002

No flame, just disagreement. I found Cryptonomicon really resonated with me, possibly because I found the subject matter so fascinating. I was very sorry when it ended.

Also, it did something most books cannot: It kept my interest in more than one storyline at the same time.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:23 PM on February 14, 2002

40 Watt, I felt completely opposite about Crypto, but I'm no Neal fanatic. I doubt you'll get flamed. Who can flame an opinion about a book?
posted by internook at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2002

slashdot thread
There's no definate date it would seem.
Mr W. Gibson's next novel would seem to be coming out in July though.
posted by davidgentle at 3:42 PM on February 14, 2002

Zodiac was fun -- though he's had a lot more practice at writing since then, and it shows. Hey, 40watt -- for what it's worth, I've had pretty much the opposite experience with his books than what you describe. Snow Crash felt show-offish and didn't make a whole lot of sense; I know the chutzpah was entirely deliberate -- Hiro Protagonist, no less -- but it still grated on me after a while. (I still liked the book, but if the rest of his work had been in the same mode I'd have probably stopped reading him by now.)

His later books, though, he's put a lot more thought into constructing the world in which his characters reside: Diamond Age took widespread nanotechnology and built a believable world around it -- the sociology, the setting, and the action were all rooted in taking that concept to its logical extreme. Once you accept the initial premise, the rest of the book feels like it *had* to happen just that way: the same way that Greg Egan makes me believe that we all *will* be transformed into software within our lifetimes.

(Except, I'll grant you, for Diamond Age's bizarre, out-of-nowhere ending -- my best guess is that he was trying for something symbolic, humans becoming nanotechnological cells in a larger being, or something like that, and just didn't pull it off.)

Cryptonomicon feels like it was written by a grownup, in the best sense of the word: it feels so believable and real that I have a hard time separating the historical sections from actual history in my mind. And I gotta agree with Kafkaesque on the multi-storyline thing: usually that device leaves me cold; I end up skimming through one story to get back to the one I'm actually interested in. (Often it feels like the writer is doing the same thing.) But, I dunno, it just worked for me here; I've reread it several times and even tried using the card code once, just for fun. (Utterly scrambled after the 3rd letter. Anyone surprised?)

Needless to say I'm looking forward to the next one. It'll fill the void left in my reading habits now that William Gibson's run out of good ideas.
posted by ook at 3:49 PM on February 14, 2002

Stephenson essays online worth checking out:
In the Beginning was the Command Line

Mother Earth Mother Board
posted by euphorb at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2002

LOVED Cryptonomicon. Liked it so much that I sent it to my brother in India -who couldnt find it in the local book stores in Bangalore at that time. I read Snow Crash afterwards. It wasnt as gripping for me.

I loved his site. Thank you. It cheered me up on a what is otherwise turning out to be a a pretty depressing day. Thank you.
posted by justlooking at 4:20 PM on February 14, 2002

Not only did I enjoy the multiple storylines, I found myself longing for the one I'd just been reading when Stephenson changed streams, only to find myself longing for the new one when he switched yet again. In other words, whatever one I was reading became my "favorite" storyline. I don't know what that means, but it'd never happened to me before when reading a novel.
posted by kindall at 4:20 PM on February 14, 2002

Oops, I didnt mean to 'thank you' twice. That just slipped through :( ....
posted by justlooking at 4:21 PM on February 14, 2002

The book goes on and on and on, and then suddenly just ENDS.
My take on it at the time (and it has been awhile since I read it), was that Diamond Age was really the story of the book, and that once the books story was resolved everything else was irrelevent. At the time I was comparing it to The man in the High Castle Left and right.
I have liked everything of his thus far, and if he continues like so, I will never be unhappy with his work.
posted by thirteen at 4:31 PM on February 14, 2002

The only other book I can think of that pulled off the double storyline.
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:33 PM on February 14, 2002

I agree with Mr. 40w. Cryptonomicon was bloated. Someone needed to edit about 200 pages out of that book. I understand the "discursive" writing style, and I appreciate it when done well (i.e., David Foster Wallace). But Stephenson confused "discursive," or "pomo," or whatever with "write every last halfway clever thought I have ever had ."

An example: the whole furniture subplot. Throughout the book, Stephenson goes on these long jags about nice furniture that are utterly boring and unrelated to any storyline. One such 50+ page walkabout has to do with splitting up a deceased parent's furniture among siblings. Another regards a minor character's sexual fetish involving furniture. I was embarassed for Stepenson -- these were not funny or particularly insightful. They were just loooong.

A long, discursive ramble about something that Stephenson actually knows about or has something clever to say about would be different. Like technology, computers, cars, etc. But this is about furniture! For at least 100 pages! Who cares?!

That said, chunks of the book were, like Snowcrash, really great.

Personally, I find the tone of Stephenson's website annoying. I mean, if you are really not interested in having people contact you, do you really need to put up a really long web page about that? Couldn't you just, oh, not have a web page? Huh? Mr. Important Writer With No Time Guy?

posted by Mid at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2002

I've got Cryptonomicon at home in my pile of books to find the time to read. After remembering all the things I liked about Snow Crash, Zodiac, and In the Beginning was the Command Line, I guess it woldn't hurt to move it to the top of the list.

As someone who is really, really busy too, Neal Stephenson's web site strikes a chord with me. But I'm not going to get pissed off at Neil Gaiman for being so damn cheerful at his website if he keeps on coming out with works like American Gods.

Kafkaesque, the Murakami sounds interesting. It might find a spot right under Cryptonomican in that stack of books. Thanks.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:03 PM on February 14, 2002

I'm with you, 40 Watt, but I'd go further: I thought the ending to Snow Crash, was forced, action-blockbuster, pat, super-quick-tied-together pap. It was otherwise a phenomenal science fiction novel - exciting, interesting, educational - but the ending took all of his great ideas about myth, language, religion, code, and collapsed it into a bad Schwartzenneger shoot-'em-up. Diamond Age had a similarly bad ending (and it fell apart earlier), and Cryptonomicon was simply, mostly boring.

All this said, I will read whatever Stephenson puts out, whenever he does. Given the moments of utter brilliance (in writing and worldcrafting) that appear in both Diamond Age and Snow Crash, I'm sure he has a masterpiece in him.
posted by Marquis at 6:45 PM on February 14, 2002

I still like Zodiac the best. Snow Crash was funny as hell, and I like that spirit of fun, compared to the unending grimness of Gibson et al. I didn't like Diamond Age much at all, even though it had many similarities to the Gibson/Sterling favorite of mine, The Difference Engine. But Cryptnomicon was excellent, a grand adventure, chock-full of both historical detail and wonderful invention, and I'm happy to have paid (almost) full hardcover price for it. But jeez, the guy cannot write an ending to save his life. I don't know why he can't fix this.
posted by dhartung at 6:57 PM on February 14, 2002

I've been back and forth on him. I had fun reading Snow Crash, but found it weaker than Gibson's work from that time as far as depth and wordcraft. And then at the flip of the page my opinion of the author took a nosedive as my edition had this ridiculous end-note with him bragging about him being the first to use the word "avatar" to mean one's electronic representation in a computerized world. WTF!? All the esteem I had for the author (not the work) got flushed away with that absurdity.

With my negative feelings toward him and mixed/positive feelings toward his work, it took a long time before I had any real interest in picking up anymore of his work.

What it took was Mother Earth, MotherBoard, the enormous Wired article already pointed to earlier in this discussion. That demonstrated real growth in his wordcraft and just plain ol' blew me away (and I also think of it as pretty much the last hurrah of Wired). It also didn't hurt that in later editions of Snow Crash he retracted his stupid claim regarding "avatar."

I own SC, DA and and Cryptonomicon. I'll probably buy his next, too.
posted by NortonDC at 7:47 PM on February 14, 2002

i kind of think of his characters as the background for the speculative settings he creates, which are the really interesting parts of his books. i'm not sure he doesn't do it on purpose.

except cryptonomicon, being a historical novel and all, doesn't play to his strengths. so for me the best parts were the essay bits. (like i found the "splitting up a deceased parent's furniture among siblings" set piece fascinating :)

another way to put it is sort of as a cross between the cluetrain manifesto and saving private ryan. sometimes insightful and at times technically brilliant, but taken together ultimately tedious.

i mean forget extraneous plot and characters, his essays like the ones linked above are awesome on their own! you can see how "hacker tourism" influenced cryptonomicon. or like the GPS headings in the diamond age and stuff. i think there's another essay on china he did somewhere in wired, too btw.

also this just in, no sugar by greg egan! (via dev null :)
posted by kliuless at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2002

Quicksilver will be set way in the past- centuries back, I believe- and some of its characters will be ancestors of the Cryptonomicon ones. Probably that Societas Eruditorum will play a bigger role- it didn't really figure into the plot of Crypto, seemed more of just a teaser stuck in to connect his future trilogy (or whatever). And there's also the one comment by Rudy that he and root have "certain shared family connections", meaning that Societas thing. Just what I've gleaned from the interviews.
posted by gsteff at 8:42 PM on February 14, 2002

DULL DULL DULL: This criticism comming from someone calling themselves "40 watt" <g>

On one hand, mid has a good point - why have a web page if you want everyone to leave you alone. On the other hand, the page does come up #1 on a google for Neal Stephenson, so it's really not much different from slapping up a big "No Trespassing" sign.
posted by dchase at 9:42 PM on February 14, 2002

I must also chime in with a solid endorsement of Crypto. At first I was disappointed with it because it was so different from Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. SC and The DA had ACTION and involved the making of MYTH and CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGY, whereas Crypto did not. But I got into it and ended up loving it. Neal is one of the writers that I look forward to. I actually get frustrated when I know he has a book coming out but it takes so damn long to get to the publication date.

Murakami is another one of my favorites. I gobble up his freaky visions of life and lust for more.
posted by ashbury at 12:28 AM on February 15, 2002

Kafkaesque, (ashbury too, on edit), Murakami! One of my favourites! Wild Sheep Chase is a great one too. He and Rushdie really got me excited about the "normal world with something a little off" literature.

As for Stephenson, another of my favourites. Snow Crash made me laugh, I read it fully as a parody that doubled as a good story. It totally skewered the excesses of the Gibson/Sterling age while giving a great read. Diamond Age was everything ashbury said, Crypo trapped me for days, and Zodiac was just a ripping good story. I can't wait for what comes next.

Any other suggestions? I've read Bear, Brin, Vinge, and I'm looking for something new, and at $10 a book, it's a little pricey to experiment on unknowns...
posted by sauril at 12:53 AM on February 15, 2002

Throughout the book, Stephenson goes on these long jags about nice furniture that are utterly boring and unrelated to any storyline. One such 50+ page walkabout has to do with splitting up a deceased parent's furniture among siblings.

Different tastes...that was one of my favorite passages in the book. And it's not really about furniture, it's about the incredibly geeky way they come up with to split up the furniture, which is a great way of showing the reader how incredibly geeky Randy's family is. And how weird it must seem to his girlfriend.

Cryptonomicon's plot and ending aren't the greatest (although I think it's his best ending since Zodiac), but I was utterly entertained by the writing and all the digressions. I wouldn't have wanted to lose any of it to an editor's delete key. When the novel was done I wasn't so much disappointed by the ending as I was that I didn't have any more fun stuff to read. I wish it were longer!
posted by straight at 6:15 AM on February 15, 2002

Cryptonomicon quickly vaulted into my top 10 favorite books. As others have noted, Stephenson is still unable to end a novel to save his life, but otherwise I was thoroughly sucked in. I think I lost an entire weekend to that book the first time I read it.

He co-authored a book with his uncle (IIRC) under the pseudonym Stephen Bury titled Interface [AMZN link]. It's much less meaty then Stephenson's other stuff, but it does manage to end reasonably well.

As far as his website goes, I suspect the guy was on the web before he became 'somewhat famous author,' so I don't begrudge him wanting to have some presence on the Web, and I don't begrudge him wanting to be left alone to keep writing, either. Just because he has 'fans' -- does that mean he has to become a complete recluse?

Also, if it means that Quicksilver will be as good as Crypto, then I say let him take as long as he needs.
posted by Medley at 6:38 AM on February 15, 2002

sauril: You might also like Pat Cadigan, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, Allen Steele. (Bruce never knows how to end a book either but that doesn't stop me from grabbing everything of his I find and reading it *first.*)
posted by realjanetkagan at 7:31 AM on February 15, 2002

mid and dchase-your comments about Stephenson's page made me think of that great quote from Thomas Pynchon:

"Only in America could failure to promote one's self be seen as arrogance."
posted by jonmc at 9:08 AM on February 15, 2002

Sauril...try Iain Banks (or Iain M Banks if you prefer scifi).

Tasty goodness.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:28 AM on February 15, 2002

We have very similar tastes in books. I have read everything by mr. banks that i could get my greedy little hands on. I highly endorse the recommendation of high doses of Iain Banks for everybody.
posted by ashbury at 9:48 AM on February 15, 2002

Iain Banks and Ken Mcleod interviewed together.
posted by asok at 9:50 AM on February 15, 2002

I loved loved loved Cryptonomicon; like Medley, it's one of my top ten favorite books. Snow Crash is a more pleasurable read, but I think Diamond Age (thanks Skot!) is the better realized book. As thirteen said, if Stephenson keeps going the way he's going, I doubt I'll ever be disappointed.
posted by lia at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2002

I loved loved loved Cryptonomicon; like Medley, it's one of my top ten favorite books. Snow Crash is a more pleasurable read, but I think Diamond Age (thanks Skot!) is the better realized book.

I enjoyed Diamond Age, (the scene of conversion by calligraphy in a KFC is fabulous), but the plot is a mess. The center of the book, the primer, isn't worked out carefully enough to make sense and be consistent. Stephenson wants to draw a line between the limited intellegence of the computer (the primer) and real human intellegence, but it's totally muddled what kind of role the human readers "ractors" have in the whole deal.

The clearest case of this is at one point Nell is trapped in a castle, trying to tell if she's corresponding with a computer or a real person. But since (as far as she knows) the whole thing is being simulated by a computer, why should she think she can tell the difference? And if the ractors are limited to just reading lines the computer feeds them, how do they add to the "intellegence" of the whole thing?
posted by straight at 1:01 PM on February 15, 2002

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